We can and will achieve so much more if we believe in ourselves. I know that two-thirds of my body being paralysed is less limiting than a negative mindset full of self doubt.
Going back to my school days, I wasn’t the most confident of children and I was a little shy. I would never have envisaged being a speaker as my career, in fact, it would possibly be the last job option on a long list of careers. I chose a degree which was fifty percent practical as I thought too much sitting was (ironically) something that would kill me! I qualified as a Chiropractor in 2004. Sometimes our life ends up going in a totally different direction to what we expected, and we can have dips in confidence as we enter new territories.
Even during my teenage years, it was my sport that was largely responsible for developing my confidence. I loved many sports but it was eventing that soon became a huge part of my life.
As a child, after school I would spend all the time I could outside with my pony, working hard aiming for the next competition with dreams and goals set high for the future. If I was inside, I would often be watching videos of the top riders, learning everything I could from them or alternatively, footage taken of me riding around various events to see how I could improve. Inevitably, there were times when things went wrong and I would lose my confidence but I persevered through these wobbles and my self belief would return- I was eager to compete at the top level in the sport and I would do everything I could to make this happen.
Both the commitment and dedication to ride at this level was immense. I learnt many incredibly valuable lessons through this sport, one of which was ‘discipline’ because even on Christmas Day horses needed looking after and ‘can’t be bothered’ was not an option. Alongside this, horses are capable of picking up exactly how you are feeling so even if you are worried or nervous, I learned that you must ride positively and put the nerves to one side else it would affect your performance.
Just nine months before the accident that left me paralysed from the chest down, I was ecstatic to be competing at Burghley Horse Trials (top level), aged 26 and feeling like it was all coming together, yet the truth was, it was all about to fall apart and I would be left with nothing. My whole world destroyed.
Well, that is how it felt anyway. On top of losing my sport and career, it was like my confidence and self belief had been stripped away in a spilt second. I lost my identity and had no idea who I was and what I wanted any more -except knowing that I was now a disabled person who to was confined to a wheelchair. Or was I?
There were still moments of laughter, smiles and positivity mixed with determination and stubbornness but on many occasions, whilst alone, I felt broken and I was often both scared and unsure of what the future had in store. Change and uncertainty are two things that most of us would shy away from if given a choice.
So how did I build back my self-belief?
I went through a process of grieving for what I had lost, accepting what had happened and adapting to my new situation. When I became willing to try things I had never considered before, and stuck with them long enough so I actually got better, my self belief returned. This resulted in pushing my boundaries further and further. Realising that ‘the sky is the limit’ (or maybe not!) and discovering I am not confined to a wheelchair at all!
From riding super bikes on track days alongside mainly able-bodied men, flying a microlight solo, walking a marathon using a bionic suit or speaking in front of hundreds of people- everyone of these has made me feel sick with nerves but I am ok with being nervous and I won’t allow that to stop me doing something. Over the years, that is how I have developed that self-belief, constantly edging out the comfort zone (of course there are times those negative thoughts creep into my head but I do my best to kick them away and focus on the challenge I am taking on!)
Here are some tips that helped me move from the lowest of low to believing in myself again:
- Accepting who we are and finding positives about ourselves. When I stopped myself hating my paralysed body I had a lot more energy for other things in life.
- Finding goals and aims- a purpose.
- Improving self-talk. Being kinder to ourselves- we speak to ourselves more than anyone.
- Not being scared of failure as that will stop you wanting to try. If things do go wrong- just work a bit harder to achieve those goals and remember that ‘the harder the struggle the more glorious the triumph’
- Thinking of past successes – don’t dwell on everything that hasn’t gone to plan but fill your mind with positive thoughts.
- Learning a new skill- this makes you feel empowered.
- Live in the present- hanging on to the past won’t help you move towards a better and happier life.
- Spending time outside is often uplifting and if you combine this with a walk, run, cycle etc it does so much for your mind (as well as physically) and it can improve your confidence and well- being.
- Help others when you can. By seeing that you are capable of making a difference to someone else, not only do they benefit but you will too.
- We are on our own journeys. Strive to be the best we can be but do not waste time comparing yourself to others. Everyone’s journey is different.
I managed to rebuild my life after it devastatingly fell apart because I realised I could still challenge myself in many ways (career and sport), I discovered I was able to achieve despite being paralysed and I had a purpose it life again.
Every goal I have set myself started with some self-belief. It is something we can work on developing and improving as well as learning how to cope with dips in confidence along the way.
“Believe you can and you are half way there.”